Five Ways to Be a Model Board Member

photo (4)By Karen Eber Davis, president, Karen Eber Davis

This post is one in a series written by board leaders who will be presenting sessions at the 2014 BoardSource Leadership Forum on October 9 & 10 in Washington, D.C. We hope you will be joining us.

Last summer, Ilene Denton, the incoming board chair at The Hermitage Artist Retreat on Manasota Key in Florida, asked for some advice for board members. “I’d love to read more about the board’s role in a nonprofit,” she said. While much advice exists about how to be a good board member, a lot of it’s pretty nebulous. Here are five concrete actions for excellent board leaders.

1. Engage Fully

“Most of them only attended board meetings,” a CEO moans. “We had such a hard time getting quorum that we moved to quarterly meetings. Now, they’re scarcely attended.” To help a nonprofit you love, fully engage. Of course, attend meetings. Also, learn what full engagement means. Ask staff and board members for ideas. If interest exists, devote 30 minutes to the topic at a board meeting to create a list of engagement opportunities. Select the ones that best fit your interests and bring you joy.

2. Draw the Circle Bigger

“Thank you,” said Anita, my yoga instructor, “for bringing people.” As I went to my car, mat over my shoulder, I realized that over the years I had invited lots friends to the class. To succeed, your nonprofit needs to grow more dedicated supporters. Model board members invite others to join the community. Consider setting a personal standard to invite five people per month to engage with your nonprofit. Offer your invitations in ways that fit your style, such as

  • invite a couple to dinner so you can all attend an event being presented by your nonprofit after dinner
  • ask a friend with good writing skills to review your nonprofit’s marketing materials with a fresh eye
  • forward event or giving invitations to a small group on your mailing list; include a personal note of why you included the recipient and why you support the organization

3. Be a Model Donor

Surprise (or not!), donating money occupies a place on this list. Your nonprofit needs funds to survive and thrive. Model board members stretch when they give. If you know you can donate $100 a month, consider pledging $125 or $150. When you attend to your finances, write this check first. You behavior will inspire others to stretch higher as they give.

4. Adopt a Beginners Mind

As a board member, no matter your expertise, rejoice that you’re about to learn more, especially about nonprofit income development. We all do.

“I realized that while my board members knew a lot, they knew only a little about fundraising and running a nonprofit,” explained Martha Macris, executive director of Memorial Assistance Ministries in Houston. “My role is to lead and teach them about fundraising.”

Nonprofits income opportunities are complex. Seven sources of nonprofit income exist, and to learn more, I invite you to attend my session, Open the Floodgates to Sustainability: Seven Income Streams, Endless Variations at BLF, where we’ll delve into the opportunities.

5. Encourage Logical Decisions

The goal was to provide more affordable housing. The idea: Save existing houses slatted for demolition for an airport. We applied for a huge federal grant to move them. We didn’t get it. Looking back, this was extremely good news. Moving a dozen houses down a major thoroughfare would have been a project from the dark side. Saving existing houses was an emotional choice, not logical. It was easier and cheaper to rehabilitate existing houses in the community that didn’t need to be moved. Passionate people fill nonprofits — people seeking to do good. As a board leaders, help your nonprofit to funnel these passions into making logical decisions. As you make decisions, help the board to generate multiple options. Before decisions are made, consider the facts and alternatives. Ask questions about the long-term impact of decisions.

You are Precious

According to David Renz in a recent Reframing Governance webinar, 70 percent of nonprofits express difficulty attracting quality board members. Being a model board member sets you apart. You are a precious resource to the nonprofit you serve. As a board member, you want your time to be worthwhile. You want to help the nonprofit.  This post shares five concrete ways to act on your commitment. Select one. Begin today.

Karen Eber Davis is an authority on income growth strategies for nonprofits and, for 25 years, has advised nonprofits on how to create greater excellence.

Visualize Success: Five Questions to Spark Your Board Experience

photo (4)By Holly Duckworth, CEO, Leadership Solutions International

This post is one of a series written by individuals who will be presenting sessions at the 2014 BoardSource Leadership Forum on October 9 & 10 in Washington, D.C. We hope you will be joining us.

What you visualize, you actualize. When was the last time your board stepped back from the business plan, agendas, and meetings to feel what success would look like? Never? If that is your answer, you are not alone. The best athletes in the world talk about visualizing each step of the race in their training regime, about how they will feel when they cross the start line, about what it will feel like to leap over the first hurdle and lunge across the finish. They visualize this over and over in the months before the race.

Why don’t we do this as boards of directors? I will tell you: It is not knowing that we can use the skill of visualization in our organizations, fear that we do not know how, and doubt that we will do it correctly.

Now is the time. What you visualize, you actualize. When you choose to overcome lack, fear, and doubt, you will be closer to success.

Push back from the board table and invite your board members to visualize success. Invite them to breathe a little, meditate if you will. Help them tap into their hearts, and ask them:

  • What does the highest vision of this organization look like?
  • What does my organization at its highest and best look like, feel like, and sound like?
  • What must this organization become to realize this vision?
  • What must this organization let go of to make this vision a reality?
  • What must this organization embrace to build this vision?
  • What other wisdom does our board bring to the organization that we should know now?

The joy of working on a board is belief you have the best hearts and minds around the board table. Leadership today is more than motions, votes, and budgets; it’s about engaging hearts and minds. Use these questions to visualize your board running a successful race that each day gets you a little closer to actualizing your vision.

Holly Duckworth, CAE, CMP, is CEO of Leadership Solutions International and a consultant, speaker, futurist, and facilitator. The session she is presenting at BLF2014 is titled “CTRL+ALT+Believe: Rebooting Thoughts and Inspiring Action in Your Organization.

Taming the Information Monster – Enough Already!

photo (6)By Michael R. Vanderpool, principal, Signature Success LLC

This is the fourth in our series of posts written by nonprofit leaders who will be presenting sessions at the 2014 BoardSource Leadership Forum on October 9 & 10 in Washington, D.C. We hope you’ll be joining us!

“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” — Herbert Simon, 1971

Did you notice the date on that quote? If Mr. Simon thought there was too much information in 1971, welcome to 2014! It is all information, all the time. Because we can produce information, and because we can deliver more information, we do it in spades. However, while we can fit several file cabinets of information on a thumb drive, it is not that easy to cram information into a board member at a board meeting. But Lord knows, we try!

We receive board books that are 100 pages or more in length. Much of it consists of reports about what committees have done and detailed financial information. Then we get to the meeting and someone tells us about what the committees have done and what the finances look like — in excruciating detail, I might add. And because there is so much information, the meetings go on forever. The concept is, we really need to be told everything, and we need to be told twice, once in writing and once in the boardroom. We become like the bottomless cup of coffee restaurants used to serve. They just keep filling us up with more and more information. And we are all drowning in knowing too much about a lot that is not really that important.

For example, I was at a board meeting of a large nonprofit organization with an operating budget north of $35 million that was operating at a loss. The board was populated with a number of high-level executives. Among the reports we received was a 15-minute presentation about a very minor activity at a community event, the same amount of time allocated to discussing the lagging finances of the organization.

It is time boards stood up to the information monster. Boards need to decide what information they want, how much information they need, and how that information will be provided. My experience has been that typically a member of the leadership team or staff makes these information decisions. That should change. The governance committee and board chair should establish criteria for the amount and type of information that will be delivered to the board.

The test is not what is available. The test is what information is needed for the board to function properly. This starts with recognition that the board needs three very different kinds of data. When the board is evaluating prior performance, it needs high-level data that can allow it to quickly assess the overall performance of the organization. If the board is focusing on a lack of performance in a particular area, it needs detailed information about the problem and possible solutions. When a board is making decisions, it needs information about alternatives. And when the board is focusing on strategic matters, it needs information that is future focused.

In addition to the right type of information, there needs to be enough information, but JUST enough, for the board to function effectively. Too much information is like too much salt. At some point, the information becomes counterproductive. I encourage the board chair to act as the board’s gatekeeper, scrutinizing not only the agenda, but also the information that will be presented to board members. Boards need to design an information system that works for them. By creating an information filter, they cannot only limit the volume of information they receive, they can make sure they are reviewing the right data. Utilizing this approach, boards can finally tame the information monster.

Michael R. Vanderpool is a principal in Signature Success, LLC, a board consulting company. He is also a business attorney and an adjunct professor in the School of Management at George Mason University. He will be presenting a session titled “Beyond the Dashboard – Designing a New System to Tame the Information Monster” at BLF2014.


Grantmakers + Governance = Organizational Success!

photo (4)The Annenberg Foundation funds what it considers to be a nonprofit’s most important asset — its leaders, both staff and board. Why? Because it sees a direct correlation between a nonprofit’s results and the strength of its leadership. Eight years ago, to further its mission, the Annenberg Foundation created Annenberg Alchemy, a leadership training program for nonprofit board chairs, board members, and chief executives living, working, and serving nonprofits in the Los Angeles area. BoardSource is an Annenberg Alchemy strategic partner and its consultants are among the program’s facilitators.

Sylia Obagi managed Alchemy for the past eight years. Now in transition between her role as Annenberg’s director of programs and operations and her new role as the first executive director of the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation, Sylia sat down with Anne Wallestad, president and CEO of BoardSource, to share her perspectives on the connections between grantmakers, governance, and organizational success.

Anne Wallestad: The Annenberg Foundation has put a stake in the ground that board leadership and governance is something it cares deeply about. Tell us how it came to that thinking, and why it’s so important to the Foundation.

Sylia Obagi: Annenberg’s mission is advancing a better tomorrow through visionary leadership today. It believes that visionary leadership at the CEO and board level will drive impact, results, and sustainability — ensuring that an organization can make the greatest impact with every dollar that it spends. Many staff members of the Foundation have come from the nonprofit side and experienced firsthand what’s possible when you’ve got effective, engaged board leadership and a strong board–staff partnership. We’ve also seen that a dysfunctional board can bring an organization down.

To understand our theory of change, you just have to look at the numbers and ratios as they relate to nonprofit leadership. We’ve got roughly a million nonprofits and a million chief executives in this country. That’s a big pool of leaders, but when you compare it to the 15 to 20 million board leaders who are also closely aligned with the success of our nonprofits (and ultimately responsible for their success), you begin to see that grantmakers have been investing their time, energy, and resources disproportionately. As grantmakers, we need to invest more in board member training — ensuring nonprofit organizations have volunteer leaders who support an organization’s resiliency. Changes in the nonprofit landscape are constant, demand for services is growing, and funding is always fluctuating. Therefore, the resiliency of a nonprofit depends on its volunteer leaders’ ability to proactively navigate these difficult dynamics on behalf of their organization.

In the eight years since we launched Annenberg Alchemy, we’ve seen it really transform organizations. It’s about shifting a paradigm, shifting a culture, creating a new way of thinking about governance and how critical it is to organizational effectiveness.

Read the full post »

Unpaid Payroll Taxes Can Mean Real Problems for Nonprofit Board Members

photo (4)By Anne Wallestad, president & CEO, BoardSource

Last month, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration issued a report that nonprofit organizations owe more than $875 million in unpaid taxes, including more than $600 million in unpaid payroll taxes.

Commenting on the report, Nonprofit Quarterly’s Ruth McCambridge cautioned the public — and the nonprofit sector — not to overreact to the sensationalized reporting on the topic. And, in most ways, I agree with her…except one: Board members of these organizations, or any organization that has failed to pay payroll taxes, need to react, and react big.

Why? Because unbeknown to many voluntary board members, they can be held personally liable for unpaid payroll taxes, and be forced to pay those taxes and penalties on behalf of a nonprofit organization.

That’s right — when a nonprofit organization is called onto the carpet by the IRS for unpaid payroll taxes, the IRS demands that someone be held personally liable, and be forced to pay — and that someone is the board and its members. The IRS’s Internal Revenue Manual Part 5, Chapter 17, Section 7 states:

“Any person required to collect, truthfully account for, and pay over any tax imposed by this title who willfully fails to collect such tax, or truthfully account for and pay over such tax, or willfully attempts in any manner to evade or defeat any such tax on the payment thereof, shall, in addition to other penalties provided by law, be liable to a penalty equal to the total amount of the tax evaded, or not collected, or not accounted for and paid over.”

IRS regulations specifically identify directors as potentially liable persons: “A director who is not an officer or employee of the corporation may be responsible for the TFRP if he or she was responsible for the corporation’s failure to pay taxes that were due and owing.” States also have similar provisions.

So, what does that mean for board members? Well, first and foremost, organizations that owe payroll taxes should get them paid immediately, prior to assignment of personal liability by the IRS. More broadly, board members should — as a part of their fiduciary oversight — inquire about any unpaid taxes that the organization might have and ensure that the CEO is prioritizing those payments. An efficient way to do this is to have a tax and information filing calendar for the organization that includes federal and state filing obligations.

The fiduciary responsibilities that board members take on are real and significant. This report was a good — albeit unfortunate — reminder of that.

For more information on what board members need to know about avoiding personal liability and providing financial oversight, check out these BoardSource resources:

Legal Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards
Financial Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards



Culture — The Holy Grail of Good Governance

photo (4)By Michael R. Vanderpool, principal, Signature Success LLC

This is the third in our series of posts written by nonprofit leaders who will be presenting sessions at the 2014 BoardSource Leadership Forum on October 9 & 10 in Washington, D.C. We hope you will be joining us.

For many years, boards have been on a mission to do a better job of governing. There has been no shortage of ideas as to how to make this happen. Yet, the quest continues as board members, board chairs, and CEOs look for the magic bullet of great governance. Having served on more than 20 nonprofit boards over several decades, I have observed and participated in this journey. And what I have learned is that the answer is not better by-laws, more dashboard reports, or more detailed conflict of interest policies. The best way to significantly improve governance is to change the way boards think, work, and act. In other words, to become the best possible leaders they can be, boards need to change their culture.

Board culture drives governance. Yet, in my experience, few boards spend any time thinking about their culture and even fewer understand what a good culture looks like. As a result of having advised and served on a wide variety of boards, I have found that really great boards have cultures with four characteristics. They are strategically focused, well-trained, active, and results oriented. They have what I call a STARBoard culture. These boards transform themselves into a high-performance team, and it is this high-performance culture that drives great governance. Patrick Lencioni in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team calls this teamwork “the ultimate competitive advantage both because it is so powerful and so rare.”

What do these high-performance teams look like in the boardroom? STARBoards are focused on the future and ways to constantly improve the organizations they govern. The board members clearly understand their role and the business model of their entity. Board meetings are full of purpose and energy and engage the talents of each member. Most importantly, the board encourages, supports, and demands real results. When these elements coalesce, the result is a highly effective team that truly provides excellent governance.

For this reason, the process of developing cultural awareness and engaging in culture-altering activities should be at the top of every board’s to-do list. Cultural awareness starts with an understanding of the board’s current culture. This can be determined by using a cultural assessment tool. With this information in hand, the board must do three things:

1. The board must actively decide what type of culture it wants to develop. What will it look like? What values will the board see being expressed?

2. The board must formally commit to change. The change leaders must paint a clear picture of how the new culture will make the organization better. It is critical that the entire board commits to becoming a high-performance team. Without this commitment, the transformation will fail. The CEO, board chair, and key members of the board must lead the effort. Connor and Smith put it this way in their book, Change the Culture, Change the Game. “Cultural changes must be led. You can’t delegate the initiative to human resources, organizational development or anyone else…[The board] must maintain ownership of the process…” While I agree with this, the reality is that few board leaders are culture change agents. Boards typically need outside help with the technical aspects of change — which leads us to the third leg of the journey to good governance.

3. The board must change its processes. Process feeds culture, and culture dictates process in reinforcing loops. Only by changing their processes can boards initiate and sustain cultural change. Fortunately, the studies of emotional intelligence, social intelligence, and small-group dynamics provide a foundation for developing new board processes.

Cultural awareness, a commitment to change, and execution drive transformation. All are necessary if a board is to become the high-performance leadership team that is a STARBoard. Having created this cultural foundation, boards can truly go about the important work of good governance. With the right culture, boards can and will become the leaders our nonprofit organizations need and deserve.

Michael R. Vanderpool is a principal in Signature Success, LLC, a board consulting company. He is also a business attorney and an adjunct professor in the School of Management at George Mason University. He will be presenting a session titled “Custom Designing a Better Board Culture” at BLF2014.

Business Model Thinking: Three Things Your Board Must Understand

photo (4)By Jeff De Cagna, chief strategist and founder, Principled Innovation LLC, and Michael Anderson, president & CEO, Canadian Society of Association Executives

 This is the second in our series of posts written by nonprofit leaders who will be presenting sessions at the 2014 BoardSource Leadership Forum on October 9 & 10 in Washington, D.C. Please consider joining us.

As the pace of societal transformation continues to accelerate, nonprofit boards must develop their capacity for generative business model thinking. The business model, which we define as the rationale of how an organization creates, delivers, and captures value, is also the framework that integrates the organization’s commitment to purposeful action with the equally critical pursuit of a responsible level of profitability. (Yes, you read that correctly. “Nonprofit” is simply a tax status, not a business model, and a measure of profitability is essential to make investments in building organizational capacity every year.)

To help your board fully embrace business model thinking, here are three things you and your colleagues need to know:

  • Business model stewardship is the most important form of fiduciary responsibility. Most nonprofit boards pursue fiduciary responsibility through the regular review of key financial documents, such as audits, balance sheets, and P&L statements. This type of oversight, although absolutely necessary, is mostly retrospective, and thus insufficient to build organizations capable of thriving in the years ahead. For 21st-century nonprofits, fiduciary responsibility requires energetic business model stewardship. Every nonprofit board has a duty to build a deep understanding of the organization’s existing business model to grapple productively with more complicated questions about new value creation for both current and future stakeholders.
  • Business model innovation must be an ongoing priority. When it comes to creating value, nonprofit organizations must listen closely to and learn with empathy for their stakeholders, many of who have demonstrated a strong preference for more open and inclusive platforms that embrace their technology-enhanced mobility, create more meaningful interactions, and enable simpler collaboration with their networks. For 21st-century nonprofits, coming to terms with and capitalizing on these new dynamics of value creation means boards must make consistent and well-paced investments in business model innovation in the years ahead.
  • Business model design is about nurturing both adaptability and resilience. The critical business model design challenge for nonprofit boards is crafting new business models that are both adaptable and resilient. Adaptive business models can more easily adjust to shifting conditions and are flexible enough to take advantage of emerging opportunities. Resilient business models are organized around a coherent strategic core that creates lasting influence with stakeholders by solving their short-term problems, meeting their intermediate-term needs, and helping them achieve their long-term outcomes. For 21st-century nonprofits, designing adaptive and resilient business models is essential to building organizations that can thrive.

For 21st-century nonprofits, the business model conversation is the most important dialogue your board will have for the foreseeable future. To have the right conversation, nonprofit boards must work with their staff partners to remove any obstacles that may interfere with the serious work of business model stewardship, innovation, and design.

Jeff and Michael will present the BLF Professional Development Institute, “Business Model Design Lab for Nonprofit Boards,” on Thursday, October 9, 2014 from 9:30 am -12:15 pm.

Donor vs. Investor: An Important Distinction

plantsBy Tom Ralser, principal, Convergent Nonprofit Solutions

This post is one in a series written by individuals who will be presenting sessions at the 2014 BoardSource Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C., on October 9 & 10. We hope you’ll be joining us.

So, what exactly is a nonprofit investor? Are donors investors? A key part of fundraising is learning what an investor is, who your investors are, what they value, and what return on investment they expect to see from your organization.

In my book Asking Rights, I offer the following definitions:

Donor: An individual or organization who typically provides low­-level (the definition of “low level” varies by nonprofit size, budget, funding model, etc.) and often sporadic financial support that is not necessarily connected to the mission of the nonprofit.

Investor: A type of funder who is looking for a return on his or her investment (often incorrectly referred to as a gift or donation). Although the term is more indicative of the mindset rather than the amount of money involved, an investor typically makes larger financial commitments that span several years. An investor is most concerned with the long-term success of the nonprofit.

As you can see, there are several very distinct differences between nonprofit donors and nonprofit investors and how each thinks. Take a look at these two examples:

1. When addressing the need for funding,
• a donor will ask “Have you demonstrated the need for your service?”
• an investor will ask “How will funding your organization improve the situation?”

2. When discussing the funding level requested,
• a donor will ask “Have we sufficiently spread our available funding across those organizations addressing the problem?”
• an investor will ask “Is this the right amount of money for your organization to bring about real change?”

Investors are the people most committed to seeing to the long-term success of your organization and are most likely to commit large dollars, both of which are key to a successful capital campaign. Understanding the differences between investors and donors will increase your fundraising results, and I look forward to discussing this in more detail at BLF.

Tom’s BLF session is titled “Identifying and Communicating Outcomes That Increase Funding.”

How Healthy Do You Want Your Nonprofit Board to Be?

check (2)By Anne Wallestad, president & CEO, BoardSource

Last spring, I had a tough conversation with my doctor. I’m diabetic and have to be very careful about my health — exercise, eat well, monitor my blood sugar, take insulin several times a day…the list goes on and on. For the most part, I do relatively well with all of this maintenance. But there are definitely places where I could do better.

As my doctor made suggestions about how I could improve my health, I squirmed in my seat a bit and made pathetic excuses about why I just couldn’t do more. “I travel a lot and can’t always choose what I eat,” I said. “I work long days and don’t always have time to exercise.” Whatever she suggested, I had a reason why it just wouldn’t work.

And then she looked at me and said, “Well, I guess it’s just a question of how healthy you want to be.”

Ouch! That hurt. But it was the truth. And I needed to hear it.

When it comes to nonprofit board development, many board members and CEOs throw up similar roadblocks to improved board performance. “I don’t have time.” “We don’t have the resources.” “How can I possibly think about strengthening the board when I’m worried about how we are going to deliver programs and meet payroll?”

These roadblocks don’t serve us, or our nonprofit organizations, well.

According to the Executive Director Listening Project conducted by the Meyer Foundation, “Strengthening the Board of Directors” is listed as a top challenge affecting executive directors’ personal and professional effectiveness (“fundraising” and “managing human capital” were the only two challenges ranked higher).

Can you imagine saying “I don’t have time to manage my staff” or “We don’t have the resources to fundraise”? No, it wouldn’t happen, because it’s understood we have to invest in these things for our organizations to flourish.

But for whatever reason, there is a disconnect when it comes to investing in our boards. According to the most recent “Daring to Lead” study, despite the fact that only 20 percent of executive directors are “very satisfied” with their nonprofit board’s performance, the majority of executive directors (56 percent) spend 10 hours or less on board-related activities each month. This finding is significant when you learn there is a striking correlation between the time CEOs invest in board work and overall satisfaction with the board — those who are the most satisfied invest significantly more time than those who are not at all satisfied.

But since time for time’s sake isn’t the point, I offer a few thoughts about how to leverage limited time for maximized impact:

1. Get it Right from the Beginning: Invest heavily in orienting and educating new board members, and making sure that they are the right fit before inviting them to the board (for more on screening board candidates, check out BoardSource’s Board Recruitment Center). Be honest about your board’s expectations — regarding time, fundraising, and overall engagement — and resist the temptation to downplay them. You’ll save countless hours of misunderstanding and frustration by ensuring that they’re on board with organizational needs and board member expectations, and that they have the information and knowledge they need to help them succeed.

2. Assess Performance Before There’s a Problem: The board’s regular assessment of its own performance and the CEO’s performance identifies challenges and opportunities long before they become significant problems, and ensures that your organization has a roadmap to self-improvement and ongoing board development. BoardSource offers tools for both nonprofit board and CEO assessments if you need help.

3. Challenge the Board to Manage Itself: Build a strong governance committee that takes responsibility for managing and cultivating board performance. The committee can help maximize the effectiveness of each individual board member and address issues of disengagement or dysfunction head on. Not only does this share the workload, but it creates greater buy-in and accountability across the board.

So, just as my doctor challenged me to reconsider my values and the amount of time I invest in them, I challenge each of us: How healthy do we want our nonprofit boards to be? And what are we willing to do about it?

If you’re interested in learning more about BoardSource’s year-round board development program for organizational members, which provides ongoing educational and assessment resources for your board, visit here.

This post also appears in HUFFPOST IMPACT.


20/20 Hindsight


By Vernetta Walker, chief governance officer and vice president of programs, BoardSource

A recent article, “World Vision Reverses Decision To Hire Christians in Same-Sex Marriages,” really caught my attention. Irrespective of whether this board’s decisions were “right” or “wrong,” its actions are illustrative of reasons why effective board governance is often the driver of a nonprofit’s successes and failures. Just two days after announcing the adoption of a policy codifying World Vision U.S.’s openness to hire Christians in same-sex marriages, the backlash from some Christian leaders, donors, employees, and affiliates led to the board reversing its position. In fact, World Vision U.S.’s board and CEO issued an apology, asking for forgiveness for their mistake.

Other nonprofits have been grappling with similar issues lately. The Boy Scouts of America’s policy banning gay troop leaders led the Walt Disney Company to cut its funding. This came after a long-awaited decision by the Boy Scouts board of directors last year to admit openly gay youth.  The difference here is that the Boy Scouts, for better or worse, is standing behind its decision.

The World Vision U.S. board, according to the article, prayed for years about its hiring policies after a U.S. Supreme Court decision supported World Vision U.S.’s ability to hire based on its religious beliefs. With such a quick reversal, though, it is clear that the board needed to do more to understand the core values that united its internal and external stakeholders—its values. The “more” in this case was the generative work of the board.

In Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards, authors Richard Chait, William Ryan, and Barbara Taylor talk about the need for boards to work in three modes: fiduciary, strategic, and generative.  Generative work can be defined in a number of ways, but it includes engaging board members in framing the issues and asking catalytic and probing questions that provide insight into the organization’s purpose, mission, and core values.

According to World Vision U.S.’s own branding, it is “a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.”  Notwithstanding, a quick internet scan reveals that others, like Christianity Today and the ever-present Wikipedia community, often describe World Vision as an “evangelic” organization. The board is in a position to decide what it means to be a Christian humanitarian organization and how to best carry out the mission.  But it is the generative mode that helps the board make sense of the organization and determine the path forward that is both evidence and values based.

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